The transition to electric vehicles is already well underway across the United States. This is a groundbreaking shift that has the potential to revolutionize both our economy and our transportation systems. But this transformation isn’t pre-ordained. A successful transition won’t happen organically — it will require significant federal involvement. To reap the benefits of electric vehicles, we need the federal government to play an active role in forging consensus among an array of stakeholders with diverging views and interests.
Americans love their cars. Since Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile manufacturing process in the early 20th century, cars and trucks have come to dominate the United States transportation system. The advent of electric vehicles marks arguably the most significant technological leap forward since Ford’s time. Sales have exploded in recent years, jumping from just over 16,000 battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2011 to more than 2 million cumulative sales by 2021.
We should all hope that these sales continue to climb. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and electric vehicles offer a partial remedy. As green energy technology has rapidly improved in recent years, the environmental benefits of replacing conventional cars and trucks with EVs continue to grow. Moreover, as we invest in electric vehicles, we also reduce our dependence on foreign oil, a fact that has taken on renewed relevance at a time when Americans are reeling from high prices at the pump.
There is no single barrier to the transition to electric vehicles, but rather an entire ecosystem of challenges to address. Some obstacles — like the need to install charging infrastructure nationwide — are more obvious and widely discussed, but there are a range of others, including manufacturing and battery costs, semiconductor shortages and raw material shortages for batteries. This nascent industry will also need to navigate a thicket of regulatory and revenue hurdles that will only become more intractable as the transition progresses.
For this industry to survive and thrive, the federal government needs to meet the moment. We must develop a proactive, comprehensive strategy and then devote the resources and leadership necessary to effectively implement it. As a first step, policymakers must bring together the broad range of stakeholders that will be involved in — or affected by — this transition, from manufacturers to public utilities, fueling distributors, energy providers, auto dealers, trucking operators, and regional and local planning agencies.
All these partners can help Congress and the administration formulate a roadmap for the future of electric vehicles. We urgently need a plan for how we can prepare the American workforce for the adoption of electric vehicles, collaborate with labor unions and manufacturers to ensure existing automobile industry workers aren’t left behind, and promote the benefits of EV ownership to the general public. We can’t afford to delay difficult but necessary conversations about these key questions and only the federal government has the power to convene them.
Fortunately, we are already making real progress. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included a provision I led with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) that will establish an electric vehicle working group that will seek to tackle these challenges, providing a central forum for different voices to report on the barriers we face and make recommendations for how to address them. I know our federal agencies are already hard at work setting up the working group under the newly created Joint Office of Energy and Transportation.
The path to our electric vehicle future is littered with pitfalls. Just as Americans in the 20th century were not able to fully realize or equally access the benefits of cars and trucks until the federal government coordinated efforts nationwide, we cannot realize the full promise of the electric vehicle transformation in the 21st without Congress and the administration playing a leading role.
Deborah Ross represents North Carolina’s 2nd District and is a member of the House Science Committee.